Developing new approaches for analyzing social media images: the death of Alan Kurdi on Twitter

Farida Vis
, director of Visual Social Media Lab
Faculty Research Fellow, Information School, University of Sheffield.

Friday, February 17, 06:30pm
CCCB (Mirador)
Streaming and chat
*lenguage: English

This presentation will focus on the press images framing one of the biggest issues of 2015 – the flight of Syrian refugees to Europe – made highly visible by the photographs of dead three-year old Alan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee whose dead body was photographed on Bodrum beach in Turkey. These images were widely circulated and went viral on Twitter before they were published and widely reported in the mainstream media. The Visual Social Media Lab published a 75-page rapid response report three months later comprising of 15 short chapters in an effort to try and understand these images from multiple angles. Specifically, how they had spread on Twitter; how people had turned to Google for information; which images were most shared; how these images had shaped public debate leading to the emergence of the ‘refugees welcome’ movement. It also sought to understand how different methods, ranging from those relying on computational techniques could be brought together with approaches from Art History to better understand how they fit within a long history of iconic images of suffering. The report also asked important questions about the ethics of showing these images on social media platforms and how such dead bodies are seen and counted within official statistics. This presentation will highlight how these approaches can productively be brought together in order to more fully address the complexity of images circulating on social media and how such approaches might be applied to other complex social issues such as climate change.

Farida Vis is Director of the Visual Social Media Lab (VSML) and Faculty Research Fellow in the Information School at The University of Sheffield (UK). The VSML brings together a group of internationally leading interdisciplinary researchers from academia and industry interested in analysing social media images. In the VSML she is principal investigator on a number of funded projects. In December 2015 the VSML published a 75-page rapid response report focused on the images framing one of the biggest issues of 2015 – the flight of Syrian refugees to Europe – made highly visible by the photographs of the dead Syrian refugee boy Alan Kurdi. The report has been widely reported on in the international media and has been taken up widely by a range of leading stakeholders. Taking seriously the need to engage beyond academia, she sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on Information and Entertainment (2016-2018) having previously served on the Global Agenda Council on Social Media (2013-2016). She also sits on the Board of Directors of the Big Boulder Initiative, an organization focused on the sustainable future of the social data industry. She is a frequent public speaker and tweets as @flygirltwo and @VisSocMedLab